Episode 2 features Mobile County Commissioners Randall Dueitt and Connie Hudson. We get an update on several quality of life projects that in the works throughout Mobile County, Alabama including the soccer complex, aquatic center, and Bayfront Park.

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[00:00:00] Bradley Byrne: Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Matters Podcast powered by the Mobile Chamber, where we’ll dive deeper into important topics that make a significant impact on Mobile, Alabama’s thriving business community. I’m your host and President and CEO of the Mobile Chamber, Bradley Byrne. Today we get to learn a lot more about the major projects from the Mobile County Commission.

[00:00:34] What they have underway throughout the county. We’re talking about major quality-of-life improvements. I’m proud to introduce our very first guest, Mobile County Commission President, Randall Dueitt from District 3. Commissioner? Welcome to the podcast.

[00:00:47] Commissioner Randall Dueitt: Hey man, thank you, and thank you guys for having me.

[00:00:50] It’s a pleasure to be here, and I’m excited about talking about what’s going on in South Mobile County.

[00:00:56] Bradley Byrne: So you blew everybody away at the State of the City and State of the County when you went through just the stuff in your district. Yeah. I mean, people just didn’t know about it. So what we really want to do today is have a conversation about some of the same things you told that audience so that we can share that same information with a wider audience.

[00:01:11] So let’s start. So you had a lot to say about Dauphin Island causeway. So let’s hear more about that.

[00:01:15] Commissioner Randall Dueitt: So there’s several projects going on in that area. One being the, uh, Cedar Point Oier acquisition that has been about two years old now, uh, we’re up and running. Um, that’s, uh, just something that the McRae family who had owned that fishing pier since the mid 1980s contacted us and said, Hey, we’re ready to retire.

[00:01:36] Would you guys be interested, in purchasing the pier? And quite frankly, um, I’ve told people this before they had, they had larger offers on the table. For that property and pier, but it was so important to them and their legacy of their father for the county to have it because they knew that it would be in safe hands.

[00:01:54] And that was a proud moment for me that they felt that confident in the county. And so with that, uh, you know, no fee for residents of Mobile County actually for the entire State of Alabama to fish on that pier. Or really for no one to pay to get on the pier. And also if you’re a resident of the state of Alabama, you don’t have to have a fishing license.

[00:02:15] The county has purchased somewhat of a captain’s license for the pier. So you don’t even, if you live in Alabama, you don’t have to have a have a fishing license. And along with that acquisition, the property across the street on the east side of the causeway came with that acquisition. And, um, I was able to last year secure a grant with, uh, GOMESA funding through, uh, Chris Blankenship and the governor.

[00:02:41] Um, To get another four and a half million dollars to build a new boat ramp and water access right across the street from Cedar Point Pier. And, um, that was very important. Um, and you know, I always speak very highly of, uh, Chris Blankenship. And the importance of him being the Director of Conservation and Natural Resources for the state of Alabama and being right here from Mobile, uh, graduating from Bryant High School.

[00:03:08] Yeah. So it’s been very good for us down there. And then if you go a little bit further, uh, north, everyone going down the causeway, I’m sure has seen the, uh, big piles of, uh, rocks and dirt going up there. That’s a Uh, 26 million project that we were awarded also through Chris Blankenship with the restore act from the BP oil spill.

[00:03:30] And so, um, that’s a big shoreline restoration project, similar to the one that we finished in Bayou la Batre, and it’s going to take that eastern, that east side of the causeway back to the 1920, original shoreline. So that’s a very big, important, important project for the shoreline. It protects the roadway there.

[00:03:51] And it also protects the habitat for the, you know, Fisheries and the oysters and things that are important to the people of Mobile.

[00:04:00] Bradley Byrne: Yeah, a lot of people know Chris Blankenship, but let’s remind them he’s, um, a Mobile guy that happens to have a very important statewide position over the Department of Conservation.

[00:04:08] And, um, all these grants that you’ve gotten have come through him and, uh, the relationship that you and many other people around here have with Chris has been very important. Let’s, talk a little bit more about some of the other stuff you’ve got. So Bayfront Park, what’s going on there?

[00:04:24] Commissioner Randall Dueitt: So Bayfront Park is another huge project to count.

[00:04:26] That’s a park that the county has owned since 1921. And, uh, it’s, I like history, so it’s kind of historically relevant to me. There was an old Bayshore, Portersville train line that you may have been alive when it ran. I don’t know.

Bradley Byrne: I’m not that old. Um, no,

Commissioner Randall Dueitt: This was, uh, pre 1921. And when that train line stopped, uh, they gave that property to the Mobile County Commission, I guess.

[00:04:54] Um, I wasn’t around, but I, I’m assuming they just, uh, asked them if they wanted and they took it. And there’s been a park there. Um, and it’s had some minor renovations to the park. I don’t think there’s ever been a major renovation to that park since it was acquired by the county. And, uh, we’re, we’re undergoing a major Uh, renovation, their new playground, uh, if anyone’s been out or been on the internet, you’ll see that we, we built a pocket beach.

[00:05:19] It’s very similar. I say this because a lot of people don’t know what a pocket beach is, but if you’ve ever been to the Grand Hotel, they have the pocket beach there. Okay. It’s very similar, except that ours is about three times bigger than theirs. That’s that part of the project is complete. And that was about a $5 million project.

[00:05:35] And then, uh, we finally awarded. Uh, earlier or late last year, um, the actual playground, parking lots, pavilions, uh, boardwalk, new restroom and office facility there. And that’s another five-and-a-half million dollar project that’s going on there. Um, just, you know, kind of, uh, doing something with our parks that, uh, probably have never been done in the history of Mobile County Commission.

[00:06:02] Well, you

[00:06:02] Bradley Byrne: know, we talk about quality of life, um, and people think about the county commission and think about roads. But y’all do so much more than that, which just, just those last two projects, you’re making an area that’s known for its water. To have access to citizens to be able to get to it. And you’re doing that because it’s the right thing for your constituents.

[00:06:23] Here at the Chamber, we like that because that’s something we can sell when we’re selling this area. Look at the quality of life that we have. Look at the amenities that we have for you. We had a prospect in just recently, and they said, Well, if we came here, what would our people do? Well, you’ve helped answer that question by, by just those two projects.

[00:06:41] And certainly access to the water is important. Speaking of access to the water, Memories Fish Camp. Tell us about that.

[00:06:46] Commissioner Randall Dueitt: So, Memories Fish Camp is another, uh, project the county acquired, I think, in 2019. And if you’d ever been down, it was, uh, basically a dirt parking lot and an old boat ramp and a little dock there.

[00:06:59] And, um, We finished that project. Matter of fact, we’re having a ribbon cutting for that project this coming Friday at 11 o’clock. Um, very nice. We did, we, we did not want to, uh, increase access at that point because it’s so far up Fowl River. We, we really didn’t want to increase it and, and have an effect on the ecosystem in that area.

[00:07:20] So what we’ve really done is improved access. New paved parking lot, new parking. Uh, we’ve been, we’ve put in a, an accessible kayak and canoe launch down there for the residents in that area. Um, and it, you know, still the same size, but a very nice park now.

[00:07:40] Bradley Byrne: Well,it’s important as we make water access available to people that we pay attention to what we’re doing to the environment around.

[00:07:48] It sounds like that’s what y’all are trying to do. And, you know, people a lot of times think, well, you know, government, county government and chamber, they’re only interested in economic stuff. No, we all want a high quality of life because that’s necessary for your job and our job. So that’s really good that you’re doing that.

[00:08:04] Now I’m familiar with that area, um, as I am for the other ones you talked about. Well, let’s talk about this Mobile County golf course and the waterfront park.

[00:08:12] Commissioner Randall Dueitt: Yeah. So that, um, Yeah. Even before I got elected, I think I was campaigning and, um, I had some friends who lived in the old, uh, St. Andrew’s subdivision out off Riverdy Sheen road and that golf course, as you know, has been closed now for 12 or 14 years and, um, I was riding through there and I said, you know, it’d really be nice, um, And this was sort of during COVID, you know, there was a lot of people wanting to find outdoor activities to, to enjoy.

[00:08:41] And I said, you know, it’d really be nice if we could put a park on the river and also renovate this golf course and give people more options for quality of life, you know, I mean, it’s, it goes back to what you were saying about, um, you know, if you want to, if you want people to move here and take jobs, you have to have more than jobs, you have to have, you know, you’re going to have to, you’re going to have to do a couple of things.

[00:09:05] You have to educate my children. That’s number one, because a lot of people moving here are young people. Um, you’re going to have to, uh, yeah. Have my wife’s going to have to have somewhere to shop when I’m at work. So, you know, those are the kinds of things that I look at and that’s the kind of things that, um, I’m trying to improve on.

[00:09:22] So the golf course, um, and park, the, uh, the infrastructure phase has been awarded last year, um, local contractor on that, and it’s out, uh, the golf course itself is out for bid. I’m talking about a lot of things that’s going on this week, but this week, Wednesday, uh, 10 o’clock Wednesday morning, we’ll have the bid opening and hopefully, uh, in the next month we’ll have a contractor awarded that bid and we’ll have a golf course there by this time next year from what I hear.

[00:09:53] Wow.

[00:09:53] Bradley Byrne: That’s amazing. You know, Go ahead.

[00:09:55] Commissioner Randall Dueitt: One other thing I want to add to that. Um Another important aspect of that for me is the number of kids that we have in middle and high school that play golf in Mobile County Public School System and private school systems. Um, it’s a, it’s a large number of kids and right now they do not have a

[00:10:17] home golf course. And these kids, I played golf in high school and these kids come back and they’re like, man, we were in Auburn or we were in Huntsville or we were in where you named the big city or town or county in Alabama. And they just talk about what a great golf course it was. Now they have Magnolia Grove, but here in Mobile, that’s where most of our students play and practice.

[00:10:40] But I’ll be honest with you. Um, it’s not their golf course. They, they have to pay to play. So, um, you know, if you’ve been to Magnolia Grove and you saw the situation with, um, South Alabama has kind of incorporated their training facility there, and that’s very similar to what I’m going to do here. There’s going to be a dedicated driving range and practice range for our students in our public and private schools in Mobile County at that facility.

[00:11:09] Bradley Byrne: That’s great. That’s just great for the students. It’s great for everybody. Let me go to another topic. So a lot of people don’t know the partnership. That the chamber and the county commission and city Mobile and others have we call it team mobile But it’s how we all work together to try to attract new industry here and expand industry, talk a little bit about that.

[00:11:26] Commissioner Randall Dueitt: Yeah, so Team Mobile has been an important partnership for our community Um, it’s helped us do things like the expansion at Austal, uh, the expansions that’s happened at Airbus, uh, South Alabama Logistics Park, the latest, I think, is the Scannell project out in, uh, the Rangeland road area.

[00:11:46] So, uh, Team Mobile has been around for a little over 10 years and created, uh, nearly 10,000 jobs, which is really kind of unheard of anywhere around the nation or the state. Um, so it’s been very important partnership for the city, the county and the chamber, uh, to create and work on these economic projects and it all kind of ties back into everything else.

[00:12:14] We’ve talked about today, you know, when you, when you have jobs, um, you want people to come here and the way you do that is improve the quality of life of the people that already live here, you know, which is a big benefit. It’s a benefit to the people who are ready here to have these, uh. Um, you know, quality of life improvements, uh, just to get other people to move here.

[00:12:37] Bradley Byrne: You know, when, when we have prospects in from out of town, they almost always comment on the fact that we work together, that there’s not the division they see in other areas. And so part of what we’re selling when we’re selling Mobile is, Hey, we’re a team here. We’re here to work together to help make your business successful, uh, and help make the quality of life here better for everybody.

[00:12:59] And they’re just blown away by it. So, uh, let me personally, thank you and the other members of the County Commission for the partnership that y’all play with us, because y’all are critical to what we do every day.

[00:13:09] Commissioner Randall Dueitt: And you guys take the lead on it, so we thank you as well, you know, because we could never do it without the Chamber, uh, Chamber’s involvement.

[00:13:18] You guys bring these projects to us, you guys bring these companies to us, and we’re thankful to have it for our local people and for the people moving to Mobile.

[00:13:27] Bradley Byrne: You know, we, we talk about the people we’re trying to attract here, but you’re right. The first and the biggest priority is to get a higher quality of life for the people that are already here.

[00:13:37] But we know we’re going to have to attract some new people here, and we have this more than Mobile, um, uh, effort to try to get. People in other places to look at coming here and we’re growing. Mobile County is growing and I think that’s going to continue to continue to be the case for a long time to come.

[00:13:51] But it doesn’t happen without those sorts of partnerships. You know, this is, we talked about this in the past. My grandfather was a road and sewer commissioner back in the teens and twenties. And um, I heard a lot about what he did back then and what y’all have done over the years is has continued to do that.

[00:14:09] And as you continue to do that, you’re building an incredible community. So thank you for coming on. I hope you’ve enjoyed being here with us today. Uh, and we, we hope to have you back at another time. Now it’s time for a brief sponsor break, but when we come back, we’ll sit down with Commissioner Connie Hudson to hear about a few exciting projects like the aquatic center and the Escatawpa Hollow Park and campground.

[00:14:30] We’ll be right back.

[00:15:02] Bradley Byrne: Well, we’re back on the Mobile Matters podcast and we have with us today Mobile County Commissioner Connie Hudson, long time friend. Thank you for coming in. Certainly. You blew everybody away at the State of the City, State of the County with your report and we’d really like to get into some of that today because we think more people need to know about that.

[00:15:22] So, One of the things you talked about was sportsplex.

[00:15:26] Commissioner Connie Hudson: I’ve been working on that project along with a team of people since 2012, the conceptual design all the way to construction. Uh, right now we have three completed fields and we have another seven planned, including a championship field and also additional parking, uh.

[00:15:46] The championship field will have bleachers that will seat about 1, 400 people, locker rooms, restrooms. So there’s a lot more planned for construction until we, to get finished with this project. But in the meantime, we have had some problems with drainage issues on the three fields. And because of that, this summer we are looking to do some additional clearing and build temporary fields so we can close the three.

[00:16:15] permanent fields that we have and get those, remediated. And when I say remediated, that means redoing the fields. It means building them from the subsurface up because we, the design showed that there was, uh, an inadequacy in the amount of, uh, sand soil mix. It gets real technical, but, uh, it did, uh, impact the amount, the ability of the fields to drain properly.

[00:16:41] And so, uh, so we’re having to take that step backwards, but that’s okay. We’re at least providing fields for the clubs in the community to play and to continue because we, we are really at a disadvantage right now with the amount of facilities that are available for these soccer clubs, not only soccer, but lacrosse, uh, ultimate Frisbee, flag football.

[00:17:02] They’re, they all use it very much.

[00:17:04] Bradley Byrne: And so that you just pointed out something that’s very important. These projects don’t just pop up and get done. It takes years to plan them. Years to execute them. And you’ve had to be there every step of the way, because it takes that kind of leadership. It just, somebody’s got to be there to drive it.

[00:17:20] So, the time that you’ve given to this county to make just that one project happen. That’s a lot of time.

[00:17:26] Commissioner Connie Hudson:  It has been. In a lot of ways, I feel like I’m the mother of the project, you know, and I’m raising children here. That’s kind of what it feels like, a little bit. But it’s, it’s a passion for me. I love what I do.

[00:17:39] I love the fact that I see a need and that I can work to address that need, and it’s not just me. I work with a team of a lot of people, not only the county staff, but the community. We have the groups that represent, the soccer clubs, the swim association, you know, all those people in the community that are working right alongside me to get this done.

[00:18:01] Bradley Byrne: But I know it takes a leader. If you don’t have the leader, it doesn’t happen. So let’s talk about another one. So you talked about, uh, the Escatawba Hollow Park and Campground. Tell us about that.

[00:18:09] Commissioner Connie Hudson:  Uh, another great project. Uh, we Purchased the Escatawpa Park back in 2019. We closed it so that we could start some renovations.

[00:18:21] It was a phased project, uh, because of funding. And, uh, so our first phase included the day use area and also, uh, uh, installing some RV parking pads. And so that has been completed. It opened for day use. Uh, this past summer and during the weekends in the summertime, we had well over 600 people there in the park and it is, to say the least, it was crowded, but it shows the need.

[00:18:50] It shows how much people enjoy recreating outdoors and being close to the water. And that’s what, that’s what it’s about. The second phase that we will hopefully, we’re in the process of bidding and hopefully we’ll begin on that in the not too distant future will renovate or actually, basically rebuild and renovate the log cabin, the entry of the park.

[00:19:14] We’re going to turn that into a cafe and grill and we’ll have a general store there because the people are already using those are, you know, they’re bringing their RVs in, utilizing those. So, uh, we’ll have that as well as an educational component that will be an interpretive education center that features the Blackwater River Systems, which is the Escatawpa is part of the Blackwater River System and the local flora and fauna.

[00:19:39] So I envisioned this park when it’s completed. It started at 45 acres. We’re about 250 acres now. We’ve added, Yeah, we’ve added a lot. We’re gonna have, uh, a lot of camping opportunities, all types from, I mentioned RVs, but all the way down to primitive camping. Uh, maybe even a couple of tree house cabins, you know, just for fun.

[00:19:59] And, uh, we’ll have, uh, a lodge. Uh, eventually a small conference center and a lot of outdoor fun stuff, you know, like, uh, mountain biking, disc golf, maybe even some pickleball. It’s pretty hot.

[00:20:14] Bradley Byrne: So people don’t normally think of a county commissioner doing this kind of stuff. They think y’all do roads.

[00:20:20] And of course that’s what you do, a lot of roads. But what you’re focusing on, what the other commissioners are focusing on a lot of times is quality of life stuff that if you don’t do it out in the unincorporated areas of the county, no one else is going to do it. So let’s talk about another. The key quality of life thing, that’s the Semmes Senior Center walking trail expansion.

[00:20:41] Commissioner Connie Hudson: We, uh, the Semmes Senior Center, the first phase of the walking trail was completed this past summer. It was, uh, right at a mile of walking track. And it also has a fitness component to it along the way. There’s just, there’s fitness workout centers and it was, it’s been so popular. We had acquired additional property adjacent to the center.

[00:21:04] And so we’re, we, we decided to go ahead and expand that walking trail. It’d be about another mile and a half and add some more fitness areas along the way. And we’ll have a couple of pickleball courts. And because, uh, obviously that’s, uh, very popular right now. And especially in the senior age group. And, and one of these days I’m going to learn to play myself.

[00:21:27] Cause I’ve heard it so much fun, but anyway, the, the, the citizens in the Semmes community, you know, they’re thrilled with it and anybody can use the walking track. You don’t have to be a member of the Semmes Senior Center to do that.

[00:21:39] Bradley Byrne: Well, you know, I’m a senior, so I know that tells all the time you need to keep moving.

[00:21:44] Don’t, don’t sit around the house all day long, and what you created for the people in that part of Mobile County is a really nice opportunity for them to get quality exercise, be outdoors, enjoy being outdoors, and, and do the stuff that you might not be able to do in your own neighborhood. So, and this is fun to be with other people your age and all that.

[00:22:05] So that’s really great that you did that. So you take those three projects, you think about them. Each one of those have taken an enormous amount of your time and effort, but because you stuck to it over this period of time, now we’re seeing the payoff for the citizens of this county. So thank you for doing that.

[00:22:22] All right. We’ve talked about three cool things. So tell us what else we should be looking for from you in 2024.

[00:22:28] Commissioner Connie Hudson: Well, one other cool thing that I haven’t mentioned yet, of course, is also part of the Sportsplex, and that’s the Aquatic Center. Cool. Tell us about that. That is for recreation, but also it’s competitive.

[00:22:40] It’ll serve a lot of needs in our community, uh, that we don’t currently have facilities that can do that right now. Uh, we’re looking at hopefully beginning construction. We’re going to try to bid it somewhere around the end of March. I’m anticipating the funding, uh, the total amount of funding being in place for the first phase.

[00:23:03] That’s roughly about 20 million dollars in the first phase and that will allow us to start on our outdoor 50 meter competition pool with dive wells and also an indoor instructional warm up pool and with the restrooms, lockers, and so forth. And, and then the second phase down the road when funding, when we secure the funding, will also include a short course 25 yard by 25 meter pool.

[00:23:30] And this will allow us to be able to compete with other urban areas of the state that already have these great state-of-the-art facilities up in Huntsville and Birmingham. They are really, uh, drawing in a lot of people that are coming for tournaments and, and even people just within the community who are being able to, to use it to learn to swim.

[00:23:50] And, and that’s what I would like to see. I want to see all these, these, uh, young people in our community learn how to swim. We’re right here on the water. It’s a safety issue too.

[00:23:59] Bradley Byrne: It’s a big safety issue and, it breaks my heart every time I run across a young person that doesn’t know how to swim and they live in Mobile of all places.

[00:24:07] So you’re right, it’s a safety thing, but the sports tourism, as you and I both know, and David Clark with Visit Mobile talks about all the time, sports tourism is huge, particularly with young people and their families follow them wherever they go. And we could get these sports tourists down here at a facility like what you’re putting together.

[00:24:27] So it’s got an economic development, um, opportunity as well there.

[00:24:30] Commissioner Connie Hudson: Absolutely. And one other tidbit I would add that, uh, it’s, it’s still preliminary. It’s still in the works. There’s a lot of discussion going on right now, but there is a determined effort underway to also, uh, do a public-private partnership with a developer to bring in an outdoor water park.

[00:24:47] Wow. So that would be, uh, That would be another, I think, that would be icing on the cake because I think that would really create a destination right here within Mobile County and within the city of Mobile, actually, that I think could draw an awful lot of people once it’s built out.

[00:25:03] Bradley Byrne:  Montgomery just did that, I think, and I see that they’ve had a lot of success with that.

[00:25:08] That’s not only cool for tourism, but it’s cool for the people that live here that they could have something like that to enjoy. Absolutely. You know, we, with your help, we got the Topgolf people here and we’re seeing great success out at Topgolf. Well, here’s another opportunity for people to go outside and do fun things.

[00:25:24] So that, that’s really good. So what you’ve done in your career in the County Commission is you focused on things that you’ve seen are strategically important. The quality of life. I mean, have I said that right? Is that have said it.

[00:25:36] Commissioner Connie Hudson:  You hit the nail on the head. That’s what it’s about. We want people, to live here, to stay here.

[00:25:43] We want young people to come back here when, after they’ve gone off to college or wherever they go, but come back to Mobile and find a job and raise families. And I think that to do that, we have to be a balanced community in a lot of respects, but certainly offer amenities that people think are important to their, to their lives, their family life.

[00:26:03] Bradley Byrne: Well, we’re involved, as you know, with talent attraction, but before we get to talent attraction, we ought to talk about keeping the talent we’ve already got here. And quality of life, things like that, are very important. We see that every day. We want to be able to tell the young people that live here, hey, Go off to school wherever you want to go to, but come back home because we’re building this, the cool quality of life, this great community here.

[00:26:26] And so, you’ve been a real leader in that. I’ve watched that over the years, you really have. I’ve admired the fact that you don’t back down. If a roadblock comes up, You figure out a way to clear that roadblock out of the way and keep moving. And that’s, that’s real leadership because it’s pretty easy to get in public office and just kind of sit there.

[00:26:42] Commissioner Connie Hudson:

[00:26:43] Well, there’s always challenges. You know that, Bradley. I do. And, uh, and so you just figure out a way to work with them or around them or whatever you have to do. And, and there’s so many people that step up to help and support. So that, that really gives encouragement as well.

[00:26:58] Bradley Byrne: Well, we’re really lucky to have you.

[00:27:01] Thank you for the great job that you’re doing. And thank you for coming in on the podcast today. And we’ll get you back at another time and talk about the next things that you’re working on. Because I know you, you don’t slow down. Whenever you finish one thing, you turn to another. And that concludes this week’s podcast.

[00:27:17] Please come back and see us the next podcast. And we’ll have something as exciting as this, although it’s going to be hard to match that. Thank you, Commissioner Hudson.